24.8 C
Saturday, June 10, 2023
HomeUSSome Californians saw a rare display of the northern lights. Here's why...

Some Californians saw a rare display of the northern lights. Here’s why it happened


University of Washington senior Anthony Edwards was returning to Seattle from a spring break road trip to the San Francisco Bay Area when a friend mentioned he might see the Northern Lights from Southern California. Thursday night.

From his hotel in Yreka, not far from the Oregon border, Edwards drove a few minutes east to try to escape any artificial lighting that might interfere with his view of the phenomenon, scientifically known as the aurora borealis.

Before he had made it out of the small county town of Siskiyou, even a few minutes, he began to notice a green hue on the horizon.

When he stopped a little further away, he said the green light was really noticeable and his camera was able to pick up some of the purple.

“I wasn’t expecting it yesterday,” said Edwards, a self-described weather enthusiast who is studying meteorology and journalism at university. “Seeing it for the first time so far south is crazy. … It was incredible”.

space weather the experts had predicted that a “severe geomagnetic storm” Thursday night could make the northern lights, usually only seen in regions near the North Pole, visible over a much larger geographic area, as far south as northern California and even northern Alabama.

“We really haven’t had anything like this in a number of years,” said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The aurora was indeed visible in the mid-latitude states.”

While he called the northern lights display in the south “quite rare,” it’s not unheard of. The most recent display happened in 2017, he said.

The photos of the spectacular presentation on Thursday were shared on social networks, from idaho to Wisconsin, and even further south in Colorado and Virginia. Highly sensitive cameras can often capture the display even farther south when it cannot be seen with the naked eye, Murtagh said, noting that skies need to be clear to see the phenomenon.

As a Seattle native, Edwards said there have been a few times when the Northern Lights have been visible in his area, but it’s always been too cloudy to see them.

The northern lights are the result of electrons streaming from the sun colliding with gases in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, typically following the magnetic field toward the North Pole, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.

But when space storms occur, as they did on Thursday, the spectacular lights can extend further toward the equator, the center said.

This week, there were a few flares on the sun, which created a geomagnetic storm, disrupting Earth’s magnetic field and, in turn, kicking off the aurora borealis display, according to Murtagh and his team. Over the next two to three years, when the sun enters its most active period in its 11-year cycle, he said he expects additional flares, as well as sunspots, likely to cause more frequent geomagnetic storms.

“As we get closer to (solar) maximum, we’re going to see a lot more of these,” Murtagh said. “We could have more magnetic storms in the next 12 months.”

He said his team is also monitoring “increased solar winds,” part of an unrelated but similar magnetic disturbance, that could cause the northern lights to become visible again in unusually southern places on Friday and Saturday, though not as far away as California.

“The opportunity to see Aurora is not over,” he said. “The most spectacular part is over, but we may see Aurora in (areas) further north over the weekend.”

He said the show could be seen on Friday and into the weekend in northern states like Wisconsin or Idaho.

The author of what'snew2day.com is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news and information.

Latest stories